By Tererai Karimakwenda
SW Radio Africa
25 June, 2014
Zimbabwe’s 90-year old president left the country again on Tuesday, this time heading for the 23rd Ordinary Session of the African Union Heads of State Summit opening Thursday in Equatorial Guinea.
Robert Mugabe, who is currently serving as the AU’s First Deputy Chairperson, had returned from a trip to Bolivia just over a week ago, where he attended the G77 China summit under the United Nations.
Mugabe was accompanied by Agricultural Minister Joseph Made and several other senior government officials, who formed part of the usual large contingent when he travels. It is not clear whether wife Grace is with him this time.
There is much discussion about Mugabe’s deteriorating health and how he manages to travel so much at his advanced age, with other observers focusing more on the fact that he leaves the country so often that there is a leadership vacuum. No cabinet meetings are held in his absence.
Many of the trips are for personal reasons, including his regular treatments for cataract eye problems, which many believe are actually a cover-up for cancer treatment. Whatever the case, the financial cost should be of concern to Zimbabweans, as each trip is estimated to cost millions of dollars to the treasury.
SW Radio Africa correspondent Lionel Saungweme said Mugabe travelled so much back in the 1980s that it gained him a nickname.
“It is too much travel for someone of his age but consistent with the nickname he earned in the 1980s when he was dubbed Vasco Da Gama after the famous explorer who discovered India. He rarely ever used to stay in Zimbabwe during that time,” Saungweme explained.
When Tendai Biti, of the MDC Renewal Team, was still Finance minister in the coalition government, he revealed in his July 2011 medium Term Budget that ‘excessive travel’ by government officials was one of the issues gobbling up public funds. It was reported to have swallowed up $20 million, much more than the $15 million budgeted annually for presidential travel.
Mugabe’s personal travel allowance used to be $50,000 per trip, according to reports. This figure has increased significantly over the years and is currently believed to be $500,000 per trip, which Mugabe carries himself in a black hold-all bag that he is given by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe. This is spending money.
The ZANU PF leader keeps all the change from each trip. During his tenure as President, Mugabe has made an average of 15 to 20 trips every year, meaning he could be earning up to $10 million per year from his travel allowance alone.
Ironically the theme of the two-day AU summit is: “Agriculture and Food Security”. These are two of the biggest problems Zimbabweans currently faces, all due to Mugabe’s chaotic so-called Land Reform programme which destroyed the agricultural sector, ended all food security and made Zimbabwe reliant on food imports.